Barometer of belief

So many times I have heard it asked, not as a question but as an accusation;  ‘why are you not more generous to people of good heart but who differ from you on theological issues?’ and why is it appropriate that at times a person will be your ally and at other times your adversary?

My way of explaining this is what I call the barometer of belief. Barometers measure atmospheric pressure so that you can tell if you are under the influence of a high pressure or low pressure cell. But the real value of a barometer is seeing the change in atmospheric pressure that is occurring. If the barometric pressure is declining then we are in for unsettled weather (at least in the Southern hemisphere).

The same is true of a person’s theological position. Whether a person is an ally or a foe has as much or more to do with where they are moving from and where they are moving to than the content of what they believe.

Starting Point
Every person begins the Christian life from a different point. It is normal and right to have a loyalty to the theological position of those who were instrumental in your conversion. We normally hold on tightly to what we were first taught about God.

But what you do with that matters. I have had the immense privilege over the years of reading the Bible with people who, when they know God better in his Word embrace the truth and make changes to their theology. That we have differing theology at the beginning of our time together doesn’t matter as we are seeking, with Bible open to know God better and change appropriately.

It is a different matter for a person who begins with an orthodox theology and then chooses to move away from that position. This is a barometric indication of change. It is absolutely right and our responsibility to ask why. It could be that the change was made because Scripture calls us to do so, but it could also be that other, less noble factors brought about this change. A person who deliberately chooses to move from orthodox faith to error should be challenged lovingly and with Bible open.

Where you are
The issues you face also affects who is a friend and who is an adversary. There are times when you can work with those who hold a different position to you. This will normally be to complete a specific task. For example people of different theological positions could work together for an end to the abuse of minority groups.

Who is your friend is also determined by who is your enemy. The old line that my enemy’s enemy is my friend is true. In the battle for souls, you can work with someone who trusts in the substitutionary, sacrificial death of Jesus but differs in some areas when you are fighting against those who believe the gospel truth is a fairy story and Christian faith is merely about morality.

Where you are going
Everyone is on a theological journey from where they are to where they are going. We should always engage in open Bible, honest dialogue with those with whom we disagree. I find that in doing this, it so often helps get us to the correct goal. It is in the context of these open, truth-centered relationships, that theological change is often generated.

In our churches
If someone once held a position you regard as orthodox and does so no longer it is right to ask ‘what made you change your position?’ This is loving, as the change is often an early warning sign of unsettled weather ahead.

Before we accuse someone of being harsh and critical of another’s position, look at where they have come from and where they are going. It may indeed be a very dangerous track they are on that will lead others astray. 

Archie Poulos is Head of Ministry at Moore Theological College and Director of the Centre for Ministry Development.

Comments (10)

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  • Andrew Mackinnon
    May 20, 11 - 4:02am
    Hi Archie

    Your last sentence reads:

    "It may indeed be a very dangerous track they are on that will lead others astray."

    When you say "they" in this sentence I've quoted, are you referring to the person holding the position who is apparently being criticised or are you referring to the "someone" in your second last sentence who is apparently being harsh and critical?

    Amazingly, I'm asking this question without any axe to grind.

    Wow! Miracles do happen!
  • Kevin Russell
    May 22, 11 - 10:40pm
    Hi Archie,
    May I be bold enough to say that this particulary article lacks clarity because you try and tackle too much.
    A person can have a different theological position to you, not because they are moving away from the bible, but because they have interpreted the bible differently to you. Do you, therefore, fail to suppot them, because they hold a different view to you, yet they have biblical reasoning?

    I am left hanging on this particular question - which relates to your opening question - but would agree that there are those, at the same time, who 'shipwreck' our faith by diminishing important central truths.
  • Russell Powell
    May 23, 11 - 1:36am
    Kevin, I think Archie's article is a bit more positive than that.

    If I understand him correctly, he is saying don't jump to conclusions too early because people, although they disagree, may actually be coming towards you, as well as going away from you.
  • Stephen Davis
    May 23, 11 - 4:01am
    There will always be differences of opinion on matters not essential for Salvation, as long as that is where the differences stay!
  • Andrew Mackinnon
    May 23, 11 - 4:31am
    Stephen, I want to preface this by saying that I think you are congenial and I have nothing against you personally.

    Known falsehood in relation to matters which are not essential for salvation should not be tolerated.

    A large part of the Christian life is the pursuit of truth in conjunction with the rejection of falsehood.
  • Stephen Davis
    May 23, 11 - 4:33am
    Well what type of known falsehood for example? I am thinking at grass roots level that's all. Naturally if there is something you know to be false then you should definitely keep away form it.
  • Andrew Mackinnon
    May 23, 11 - 4:38am
    Yeah, I see what you mean.

    I suppose I actually believe that every concept can ultimately be reduced to truth or falsehood or truth and falsehood. I think this is analogous to the binary system of zeros and ones.

    However, you're right that we shouldn't be divided if we simply have different convictions and I, myself, have been guilty of seeing that division at times as more important than it really is.
  • Stephen Davis
    May 23, 11 - 4:44am
    Ultimately Andrew, you are probably correct! What I meant earlier is for example if someone said to you "I am a Christian but I do not believe in the Virgin Birth", then you would seriously have to question something like that as it is a part of the foundation upon which the Christian faith is built. However, a perfect example where Christians can agree to disagree is the Premillenial, Post millenial, etc. etc. view. That is something that will not affect our Salvation.
  • Andrew Mackinnon
    May 23, 11 - 4:49am
    Yeah, I rewrote my last post in agreement with you.

    Even if everything can be reduced to truth and falsehood, that doesn't mean that truth and falsehood are always easy to apprehend. I don't have the mind of God, although Paul encourages us to have the mind of Christ which is essentially the same thing and something to pursue through sanctification. Often it is only together that we can effectively separate truth from falsehood - as iron sharpens iron.
  • Stephen Davis
    May 23, 11 - 4:51am
    Well said Andrew, no reasonable person could disagree with that!